Why Study Classics?

Today, more than ever, students are worried. Maybe you are too. Maybe your parents are. A University education is expensive and students (and their parents) want to be sure they will get a good return on the time, energy, and money they invest in themselves. Some may wonder "Why in the world would you spend your time studying dead civilizations and their dead languages?" That's a fair question. We hope to show you here that in addition to being enjoyable and fulfilling and preparing you for a quality life, Classics can be a practical major as well. 

For millennia, education has meant becoming familiar with the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Their achievements in art and literature formed the basis upon which most Western art continued (and continues) to be built. Their philosophy and religious traditions helped shape ideas about ethics, how to be a good person, and what a good life is. Their architecture developed a vocabulary which we still recognize in the prestigious buildings of American life, from the Capitol and Supreme Court to the White House. For close to 2000 years, Latin was Europe’s lingua franca; scientists like Galileo and Newton and explorers like Christopher Columbus published their discoveries not in their native languages, but in Latin, the language of every educated person in their world. When John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were debating what kind of government to create in America, they turned not primarily to English authors but to the Greeks and Romans.

Becoming a Classics Major means opening a door not just to the Greeks and Romans themselves, but to all of Western Civilization since them. It means being able to better understand St. Augustine and Medieval monks and Renaissance painters and the plays of Shakespeare and the science of Copernicus and the Lincoln Memorial and the film “300” and the “Hunger Games” series. It means engaging in a series of conversations that have been going on for 3,000 years and that have shaped the world as we know it. And it means preparing yourself to keep that conversation going and to help it develop for years to come.

For most of that history, this kind of education was out of reach to all but the most wealthy. Today, any University of Arizona student can take advantage of the tradition that a Classical education has to offer. 

Studying Classics is not about escaping the modern world or avoiding its problems. Instead, Classics presents an opportunity to gain perspective which is impossible without looking outside our own frame of reference. By exploring the foreign societies of the Greeks and Romans, we gain an understanding of alternate ways of thinking about issues, about organizing society, about the issues we care so much about. We also are able to find a lot of things we do recognize in the faces, stories, and works of those separated from us by half a world and a few thousand years.  

Classics forces us to confront the ways in which our society is unique and the bonds that tie all humanity together. As has been said, Classics is good to think with. It’s not an accident that so many great thinkers, from Thomas Jefferson to Sigmund Freud to Karl Marx all had a background in Classics. Check out the “You Are Not Alone” section for more famous names who have benefited from studying the Classics.

Often people think about a University education as preparation for a specific career. You get a degree in Accounting, and then you become an accountant. While there are majors and careers for which that is true, the vast majority of careers do not line up perfectly with any single major. So what is the relationship between majors and careers?

The jobs that are right for you will probably be ones that you have 1.) A passion for, so that you enjoy what you do, 2.) Some experience with, so you stand apart from entry-level candidates, and 3.) The skills to do well, so you can be successful. The passion comes from you and your interests—how do you want to change the world?  The experience comes from opportunities like internships and work experiences. Your major will help you develop the skills to do that job well. Classics Majors build up great skill sets that are useful for almost any job.  The key is to be sure employers understand what skills you bring to the table!

Classics Majors are required to develop a remarkably versatile set of skills. Careful study of archaeology and history hones critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills and the ability to balance detailed analysis with big-picture thinking. Experience reading and discussing Classical literature develops skills in effective communication about complicated subjects and analyzing even difficult writing. Time spent studying Greek and Latin helps make students great writers. Over and over, employers list critical thinking, problem solving, and communication as their top hiring priorities. Classics is not the only place you can build those skills, but we know it is a great place to do so!

Moreover, remember that most people have multiple careers in their lifetime. The skills you develop as part of your Classics major or minor will always be useful to you, no matter where your career takes you, from marketing to management to medicine, and from education to politics.

Every year, Classics majors go on to become doctors, lawyers, managers, museum curators, business owners, artists, and teachers. The most successful graduates from programs like Classics pair the quality education and skill set they take from their major with their internship and/or work experience in a field determined by their passion. Where will your Classics major take you?

Given the amount that a University education costs, and the debt students take on to invest in themselves, it's perfectly natural that students are worried about the ways their investment will pay off. Some people are concerned that they won't be able to find a job after they graduate. There's a lot of good news for Classics majors here!

News reports can make it sound like a major in business or nursing is a ticket to a steady job with a high paycheck and there is some truth to that. These "pre-professional" degrees train you for specific, important, exciting jobs that pay pretty well, but so do fields like Classics. A recent (July 3, 2013) report from the Chronicle of Higher Education noted that those who had majored in fields like Classics earned a few thousand dollars less per year immediately after graduation. But when the same study looked at people in the middle of their careers, about 15 years after graduation, the numbers were reversed. By that time, the Classicists were out-earning the Accountants!

Why is this the case? The Nurses and Accountants tend to find their job and then stay in that job for a long time, with a pay rate that more or less levels off. In contrast, humanities majors tended to take a little longer to find their niche, but once they found it, they grew into incredibly valuable (and well compensated) employees. Even Business Insider encourages you to "ignore the haters and major in the humanities!" Moreover, Classics makes a perfect first step towards some of the most lucrative careers in the medical and legal fields. 

For students planning on getting a graduate degree, Classics makes an ideal major or double major.  Obviously, a Classics major is a great start for those thinking about teaching history or Latin language.  Our department even offers a Master’s Degree in Latin Pedagogy perfect for those intending to help fill the consistent NEED for teachers of High School Latin.  Likewise, if you’re interested in pursuing Ph.D. in Classics, History, Archaeology, Art History, Comparative Literature, Religious Studies, or other related fields, the Classics major can be a great first step!

If you’re thinking about law school or med school, you should also give Classics some serious thought. Classics Majors bring several advantages to the process of applying to both law school and medical school. For one, by studying Greek and/or Latin, Classicists develop intimate knowledge of the technical jargon in both fields. Because of this training, classicists consistently are top scorers on the verbal portions of important exams like the LSAT, GRE, and MCAT.

Additionally, Classics Majors tend to be well rounded. You’ll still want to prepare with pre-med or pre-law coursework (or even better, a double major!), but your commitment to Classics will show those admissions committees your abilities outside your chosen field.

Finally, Classics Majors stand out! Be the person who makes the admissions committee members sit up and take notice! You’ll be glad you did!

A profitable career that allows us to support ourselves and those we love is an important life goal for most of us.  But it is not our only life goal. We all also want to live happy, fulfilling lives and to be productive citizens and remembered fondly.  The Greeks and Romans were not just any people. We continue to admire them and their works because at their best they reached dazzling heights of success in nearly all areas of human achievement.   While many majors (including Classics) will sharpen your knowledge and intelligence in ways that can help you be financially successful, a major in Classics can help provide the wisdom necessary to build successful relationships, find fulfillment, and achieve a lasting legacy.  We can’t promise you happiness, but we believe your engagement with the Classics will inspire you to make your life worth living, whatever that means for you. 

The study of the Greeks and Romans is not merely a fun and fascinating glimpse into bygone eras. It is a chance to wrestle with the humanity of any person anywhere, a humanity that can be delightfully familiar and shockingly foreign. It is a chance to engage in conversations that have been going on for millennia. It’s an opportunity to learn from the past, and apply that learning to the problems of the modern world. It’s an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

What can you do with a Classics degree? The possibilities are nearly endless, but you can get a sense of some of the range by looking at what people who have studied classics have gone on to do. They include authors and athletes, presidents and tech gurus, musicians and politicians, journalists, and media moguls. This list is certainly not comprehensive, but the famous names here will hopefully illustrate that studying Classics is only the beginning of your journey!


Jonathan Martin , NFL Offensive Tackle (2012-2015), Classics Major at Stanford University

Authors and Thinkers

J.K. Rowling , author of the Harry Potter Series, Classics Minor at Exeter University
Rita Mae Brown, author of Rubyfruit Jungle, Classics Major at New York University
Karl Marx, Political Philosopher, author of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, Ph.D. in Classics at University of Jena
Toni Morrison, author of Beloved and winner of the Nobel Prize, Classics Minor at Howard University
W. E. B. Dubois, Co-Founder of NAACP, Sociologist, Professor of Greek and Latin

Media Personalities

Lynn Sherr, Correspondent for 20/20, Classics Major at Wellesley College
Ted Turner III, founder of CNN and TBS, Classics Major at Brown University


Dido, Grammy- and Oscar-Nominated Singer and Songwriter, Greek and Latin Concentrator at City of London Girls' School
Chris Martin, Lead Guitarist of Coldplay, Graduate with First Honours in Greek and Latin from the University of London

Politicians and Statesmen

Jerry Brown, Governor of California (1975-1983, 2011-present), Classics Major at the University of California
James Garfield, 20th President of the United States, Professor of Classics at Hiram College
Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and 3rd President of the United States (1801-1809), lifelong devotee of the Classics
Boris Johnson, Mayor of London (2008-2016), Classics Major at Baliol College (Oxford)


Sir Anthony James Leggett , 2003 Nobel Prize Winner (Physics), Classics Major at Baliol College, Oxford


Charles Geschke, Co-founder of Adobe Systems, Classics Major at Xavier University
Tim O'Reilly, CEO and Founder of O'Reilly Media, "Tech's Most Valuable Teacher," Classics Major at Harvard

Check out more cool Classicists here!

Contact an Advisor to join these people in studying Classics today!



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